Monday, November 19, 2007

Being the bully (no Ultimate content)

Disclaimer: My two favorite teams are the Redskins (remember 52-7?) and Indianapolis. I have argued (and continue to argue) for Manning in the endless Manning vs. Brady debates. I pretty much hate the Pats, although I certainly admire them.

So... the 10-0 Patriots are running up the score. Everybody's favorite Monday morning water cooler topic, it seems. So, what up?

Firstly - the argument that they are running up the score because "you gotta play your starters for three quarters" is bullshit, plain and simple. Belichick is a very smart guy and has a well documented history of behaving in unconventional ways (going for it on 4th all the time, drastically differing schemes for different games, using players both ways, using more starters on special teams, et cetera) and would have absolutely no problem rolling out the second string in the third quarter if that was what he thought was best for his team.

Furthermore, there's an obvious reason why he should roll out the reserves - injuries. You have to look no further than the arch-rival Colts, whose chance to derail the Patriots year of destiny seems to have shattered along with Dwight Freeney's midfoot (and a tidal wave of other injuries). They looked nearly as spectacular as the Patriots when they were dismantling Jacksonville 5 weeks ago, but now they are playing a 6th string tackle and can barely eke out victories against average teams. Injuries are a fact of life in the NFL, and aside from a few relatively unimportant players, the Patriots have skirted them so far. The earlier you get your key guys off the field, the less risk you incur.

Add to the concern that, if anything, the risk of injury is even greater in a blowout. It's easy to imagine a Jets defender diving into Randy Moss's knees when he makes a catch with a 40 point lead. (And holy crap, what a shit storm that would cause.)

The reality, which seems blatantly obvious to me, is that Belichick and the Patriots have made a conscious decision to run up the score, in spite of at least one very good reason to not do so. The question then becomes, why did they make that choice? As I see it, there are two reasons, one for the other team, and the other for the Patriots.

1) Intimidation. It works, plain and simple. It's psychological warfare. Not for the game they are playing, which is already effectively over, but for the next game and the game after that. Most teams have already lost the game in their minds when they take the field against the Pats. They aren't playing to win; they just don't want to be embarrassed. It's an extra edge, and if there's anything we know about Belichick, it's that he is always looking for an extra edge, no matter how much of an edge he already has.

2) The legacy. These Patriots want all the records. They want Brady to shatter (not just break, but shatter) Manning's TD record and passer rating record. They want Moss to break Rice's receiving TD record. They want to break the record for most points by a team in a season. They want to break the record for average margin of victory. They want to be the first team to go 19-0.

Here's the thing: why the heck not? Why should they settle for winning games by 20, resting the starters and losing their last game, and just taking home the title without extra fanfare? If you had already won 3 titles in the last six years, and you had a chance to put a giant stamp on the history books, so that nobody would EVER forget to mention your team when they discussed the all-time greats, then why wouldn't you? Why should they feel bad about this?

I know that if I was a Pats fan, I'd be loving every garbage time toss to Moss. I know that I wish Peyton had piled on another 10 TDs on his record in 2004. If you don't think he could have, look at the game logs. Only 1 of the 49 could be reasonably considered a garbage time throw. He didn't play the second half in the blowouts. I guess he really didn't care about the individual stuff that much. But these Patriots, as a team, clearly do. They consider the numbers to be part of their legacy.

Belichick, a football history buff himself, recognizes this and plays into it. He does pull the starters, but only after they have put the exclamation point on the game and he's past the point of having even the slightest argument that they're not running up the score. There have been some pretty hilarious press conferences this year where Belichick has tried to argue that they weren't piling on.

I guess this is really the only thing about the situation that annoys me (other than the fact that it's a team I generally root against) - the denials and the fact that they are taken seriously. I wouldn't expect Belichick to do anything other than dodge the question, as that's the best way to minimize scrutiny. I just don't know why the media either questions whether they are running up the the score (they clearly are), or questions why they are (the two reasons above).

I think both of the reasons they are running it up invite criticism - nobody likes a bully, and you're "supposed" to only care about winning as oppose to stats. But again, if I were a Pats fan, I'd be loving it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Updated approach to plus/minus stat

A few folks out there are familiar with my wonky "adjusted plus/minus" stat. This statistic does not consider touches, turnovers, blocks, assists, or scores. All that is considered is who was in and whether they scored the point. As such, this data can be compiled using a pretty bare bones stat sheet.

I have made some updates to my approach to using this stat, partially motivated by some suggestions I have received. This new approach tries to compare a player not in an absolute sense, but in stead in a relative sense based on team expectations. Here's a summary of the approach, followed by an example.

1a) For a given game, divide points scored by total points to obtain overall efficiency.
1b) Obtain expected efficiency by comparing teams in the score reporter. For instance, this comparison of Jam and Sockeye currently predicts a 15-13.3 Sockeye win. So Sockeye's expected efficiency would be 52%.
1c) Divide overall efficiency by expected efficiency to get the "expectation ratio".

For the purposes of this algorithm, I would ideally collect the predicted score from the score reporter after the tournament is fully reported, before any future tournaments. Since recent games are weighted more in the RRI algorithm, this probably gives the truest measure of what should have been expected at that tournament.

2a) Count the number of offensive points the team played in each game, and how many they scored. Divide O-point scores by O points to get offensive efficiency for each game.
2b) Divide this total by the expectation ratio to get "expected offensive efficiency"

3ab) Repeat the above to get expected defensive efficiency for the game.

I debated whether there should be some "expected O/D split" in efficiency, but in the end I decided that the character of each game is unique due to wind effects and the like, and as such it's better to assume the O/D splits are as they should be.

4a) For any given player, compute their offensive efficiency based on the ratio of O points to O scores when they were on the field.
4b) Subtract the players offensive efficiency from the expected offensive efficiency in that game to obtain marginal offensive efficiency.
4c) Multiply marginal offensive efficiency by offensive points played to get that player's offensive plus/minus for that game.

5abc) Repeat the same for defensive points.

6) If desired, add the player's offensive and defensive plus/minus together to get overall plus/minus. This can then be divided by points played, and added to expected efficiency, to get the player's adjusted efficiency.


When Ripe played Bad Larry at sectionals, we lost 13-12, for an efficiency of 48%. Our expected efficency in that game was 45%, giving us an expectation ratio of about 1.05.

We scored 9 of 12 O points, for an O efficiency of 75% and an expected O efficiency of 71.6% (i.e. we scored 3.4% more often than you would expect).

We scored 3 of 13 D points, for a D efficiency of 23.1% and an expected D efficiency of 22%.

We scored 5 of 6 O points I played, 11.7% more often than expected (83.3% - 71.6% = +11.7%). When multiplied by 6 O points played, this gives me an adjusted O plus/minus of .7 points (.117*6 = .7).

We scored 2 of 8 D points I played, 3% more than expected, for an adjusted D plus/minus of .24 points.

My overall adjusted plus/minus for the game was therefore +.94.

To give some context to that: the overall range for the game went from +2.47 (scored all four of her O points, and 2/3 D points) to -.88 (scored 0/4 D points, did not play on O). For the entire weekend, total plus/minus ranged from +8.67 to -2.41. Overall plus/minus was skewed toward positive because we exceeded our expected score in most games. (Also, the negative scores tend to be lower because people who are playing well play more.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Time-saving form letter for August 25th

As a service to the community, I am providing this letter. With a few simple text replacements, this letter should be appropriate for blog entries, letters to the UPA, and most of all, posts to


SUBJECT: Let (team) play!

I just heard that the UPA is not going to let (team) play in (location) sectionals. This is ridiculous!

From what I heard from a friend of somebody on the team, (team) had their roster 99% legit on the UPA page at the deadline, but they just needed one more day to get those last few names in. They were only ONE DAY LATE!! It was probably the UPA's fault anyway, because the site was pretty slow on the 24th. There was no way (team) could have predicted that.

(Team) is one of the top teams in the (division) division. Without their presence in the fall series, the (division) championship will carry an asterisk, because we'll never know what (team) would have done.

I know the UPA loves to screw people, and say "rules are rules", but they should make an exception here. (team) didn't do anything wrong, and deserves to play.


If you plan ahead now, you could be all ready to send it out on the 25th. If you don't get your post out until the 26th because you had to do all the search-and-replace stuff on the 25th, you have nobody to blame except yourself.

I wish every team the best of luck in lodging complaints this fall.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The importance of saying stupid things

Not counting league, I've been in a leadership position on five different teams, including my current club mixed team. As I've gotten older, I've gradually become a little more aware of the way other people take my comments, and it's definitely affected the way I talk when I'm addressing either the team or the individual. A couple things I've figured out:

- There's a limit to how many detailed ideas a team can absorb in a huddle. I'd generally say that that number is one, or (on average) slightly less than one. I think that, oddly enough, this is why saying what I would consider stupid or pointless comments are so important. Comments like "they're tired, if we keep running hard we're going to run away with this game" are, on the face of it, pretty pointless. I mean, when I say that, I don't think there's a single person on my team who

1) was thinking "gosh, we can win this game without working very hard", and
2) was convinced of the error of their ways by my comment.

But that's not the point. The point is twofold. One, these sorts of comments are easily understood and get people agreeing with what you are saying, which helps set up any more meaty comments you have in store. Second, there's really nothing better to say there, because too many ideas is just as bad as none at all.

- In order to help people get better, you really have to treat them like individuals. What I mean is that you have to understand how they deal with failure and how they take criticism. There are some people (I am one of them) who are perfectly willing to discuss the thing(s) they screwed up that point the moment they leave the field. But there are other people who both need time away from the play, and need for constructive criticism to be couched in positive language*. This is more common when I'm dealing with women, but it is NOT just a male/female thing - there are definitely women who want to discuss things right away, and there are men who I really have to walk on eggshells with.

OK, I'm done icing my left heel and my right ankle, so that's enough for now.

* for clarity - when I don't "couch things in positive language", I still avoid expressing anger/frustration at them. My "non-positive" approach is a straightforward "you did X, this is why Y is better". Particularly on a mixed team, I try to make sure people know it's unacceptable to lapse into the pointless habit of screaming at someone when they screw up.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Behind the wall

I had an interesting conversation at a recent tournament with a guy who played on a high profile college team around a decade back. This was one of the top teams in the nation, and it was also one of the teams that had a reputation for aggressive play and bending the rules. This was before the days of (widespread, well trained) observers, and the gray area for rules abuse was much bigger. He was in a very different place as a player now, so he offered some interesting inside perspectives to me looking back on those days.

I've always been curious about what it was like to be on those teams, because they had to know, on some level, that they were blatantly breaking some rules and were winning through intimidation (in addition to talent). And yet, while these teams had always freely admitted to enjoying a physical style of play and occasionally fouling as a result, I've never heard admissions of intentionally breaking the rules. Despite this, these players have often seemed exceptionally mellow and friendly off the field. This contrast - nice guys acting in a way that earns them hatred, and then being somewhat dishonest about it - seems jarring to me.

A few tidbits I got from this conversation:

- He basically confirmed hat there was a (largely unspoken) rule on this team that you back your teammate up, no matter what the call or situation. And you do it vocally. That was just the culture of the team. That's not too different from a lot of teams now, I suppose.

- Although he couldn't be sure, he was fairly convinced that many of the worst fouls /calls/infractions that the team leaders made were made intentionally. That's no shocker, but what I found interesting was that he thought the motivation was not to get that one possession, but rather to control the pace/style/mood of the game.

- Most interesting to me was an anecdote he told about a bad call he made. He had a layout catch that he got his hand under, but the disc was down. He called it up, and stood by his call after a huge argument broke out. Nobody on his team said a word in dissent at the time. Over a week later, however, after a team meeting, one older player on the team pulled him aside and said "if the disc is down, call it down".

So, you get total support at the time of the call, but on some level, at least some players on the team wanted to win without making any obviously bad calls along the way. So, the culture of SOTG did seep in to these teams, if only to a tiny degree.

Monday, June 18, 2007



Yes, I got two pair. Yes, I paid the "buy it now" price rather than bid and cross my fingers. When a cleat that's been discontinued for two years shows up in my size, I don't mess around. For me, the perfect cleat is the 3/4 height speed TD. Maybe they will start making them again, and/or I will find another cleat as light, durable, comfotable, supportive, and effective. But I'm not taking any chances. I have four pairs now, which should last me into the next decade.

I just wanted to share my good fortune. Idris has blogged about cleats (more than once) before, and there are recurring rsd threads on the subject, too.

Friday, June 15, 2007

NBA divisions (no ultimate content)

A lot of talk from various sports columnists about how to fix the NBA. When the lottery happened a lot of people wrote about how to improve it (this was my favorite idea although it's too kooky to ever get implemented). Now the in-vogue idea is to re-seed the playoffs 1-16. That way the west/east imbalance (which, amazingly, looks like it is going to get worse before it gets better) is not an issue.

I actually like this idea, however, if you're going to do away with the conferences for seeding, why not trash them altogether? Let's look at it:

current NBA: 6 divisions of 5, 4 games against each team in your division, 3-4 against other teams in your conference (randomly determined), 2 games against the out of conference teams. Division winners are guaranteed to be a top 4 seed in their half of the playoffs.

my proposal: 5 divisions of 6, 6 games against each team in your division, 2 against every other team, except an extra game against the 4 teams that finished the same place last year in their division (so, if you win your division, you play 3 games against the other four division winners next year). 5 division winners are guaranteed a top 8 seed.

Both are 82 games. 6 game sets against your division rivals brings rivalries back to the NBA. Realigning to 5 divisions allows for more geographically reasonable divisions:

Pacific: Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, Golden State, LA, LA
Southwest: Utah, Denver, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio
Midwest: Minnesota, Milwaukee, Chicago, Indiana, Detroit, Cleveland
Atlantic: Toronto, Boston, New York, New Jersey, Philly, Washington
Southeast: Memphis, Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, New Orleans

Seriously, look at the current map and tell me that setup doesn't make more sense. Minnesota plays Portland and Utah twice as often as they play Chicago and Milwaukee? Dumb.

The only issue there is that the new SW div is insanely stacked (the top six seeds in the western conference playoffs!), but with 1-16 seeding, this can still work out.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

"Tournament stratification" sounds like a good title...

I'm doing requests, it seems. I mean really, when he wrote that, he may as well have put it as "Tarr should blog about tournament stratification". I guess he could have been thinking of George or maybe Dusty, but this is right in my wheelhouse. I have 3-4 other topics I've been meaning to blog, but they can wait.

We're talking about tournaments that have "elite" and "lower" devisions. Sometimes these divisions cross into one another; sometimes they do not. Let's lead right out with the main pros and cons of formats with power pools like these:

Pro: teams get more meaningful games, which is the point of playing.
Con: fundamentally not even-handed. Relies more on initial seeding.

That pro is crucial, and is enough to justify power pools a lot of the time. The bottom line on power pools is that the elite club teams are not going to pay airfare to travel to a tournament unless they know they are getting a full slate of games against other elite teams. So having, at least, a power pool (or two or four) on the top is basically a requirement of any top tournament.

The first con, i.e. lack of even-handedness, is not a major concern. You night have a harder path to win the tournament, or only be able to place 9th, but nobody's season is ending as a result. The point of preseason tournaments is to play, and teams should be judged by individual game results as oppose to the number attached to their finish.

The second con, however, is more significant than you might realize. Allow me a meandering, self-indulgent anecdote to demonstrate my point:

My new job has a sand volleyball court outside, and there is a formal lunchtime volleyball league. Rather than attempt to make balanced teams and a full schedule, the league is split into 8-person divisions, and each league game is a different 4v4 matchup within that division. There are 56 players, and consequently 7 divisions. After describing myself as "tall and reasonably athletic, but with very little V-ball experience", I got placed in div 5.

This week, one of my teammates couldn't make the game, so a player from another division subbed in. He was decent; I thought he was about average among the players on the court. I figured he was a good 6 or a bad 4, but when I looked him up on the league spreadsheet later, I was quite surprised to discover that he was div 2.

What was the point of that story that applies to Ultimate? Most people drastically overrate their ability to predict the relative strength of teams/players. In the case of the V-ball league, the idea to have divisions is a very good one. Div 1 has a guy who can two-hand dunk with ease and a former varsity volleyball player at Stanford. But with 7 divisions, the variation within a division is far greater than the variation between divisions. The league would be well served by 3 or 4 divisions. The rest is just noise.

The same is absolutely true in Ultimate. The only arguable exception is the few elite men's teams, which are pretty stable. As I said, you need to have a power pool at the top anyway, to attract the top teams. But even there, the worst "elite" teams usually have very little (if any) edge over the best "open" teams.

In conclusion, some stratification in preseason tournaments is a good thing. But there should be some room for crossover whenever possible, and care should be taken to not overstratify. It's easy to talk yourself into believing that there are several big obvious breaks in team strength, but the results will often defy such expectations.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Getting the hang of this league thing (4 for 21)

Not too long ago, I posted jubilantly about winning the second league championship of my career, and the first in 17 tries. Now my personal winning percentage since the end of last fall is a neat 75%, as I captured the championship in two of the three spring leagues I played in.

Two of these leagues were fairly novel experiences for me. The first of those two was the first men's league I have ever played in. This was offered as a supplemental league to the mixed leagues by the local organization. The games were played on Sunday morning, before the mixed games started, so it was possible to double dip. This league was notable for a pretty high level of play. Every team was capable of putting out a full line of players with club experience, although a lot of these were masters players. In fact, one team, our finals opponents, were entirely masters eligible.

The finals game was a seesaw affair. The old guys jumped out to an early lead. They were running very efficient offense - using the "Boston" 4-man play, staying patient, and using any mismatches they had. On defense, they generated some key turns with their zone - ironically, most of our turns came from our oldest and most experienced players. We adjusted and started beating their zone with regularity, and got a few big D's ourselves, and managed to pull close at halftime. We came out in the second half with a lot more energy, and we got a lot smarter about matchups. We pulled ahead late in the second half, and then both teams got tired and we had some very costly and unnecessary turns. I was pretty sure the cap was going to deny us a comeback, but we managed a four goal run to close the game out and win by two.

The game was a nice contrast of styles, with the old guys running a mix of zone and man, and a straight stack offense, while we ran almost exclusively force backhand man defense and a horizontal stack offense. Personally, I had a pretty good game - two turns, including one of my three hucks, but a couple D's, a lot more touches than my man, and several goals, including a 60 yard backhand that tied the game in the final run.

I thought the experience of a men's league was a lot of fun. I don't think the spirit level was any worse than the mixed leagues, and the level of play was really high. I hope that (as I mentioned a while back) the league goes to a "overflow men play men's league" model, which will both increase the size of the men's league and improve the gender ratio of the mixed league.

The other "novel" league I played in was a clique league. I've played in a corporate league before, but it's been a long time, and other corporate leagues I've played in always required some ostensible link other than "we want to play together". This league was entirely open registration, and it showed in the talent spread. My team, which had several of my club teammates as well as some other strong pickups, probably had an average margin of victory in the 2:1 range. There was exactly one team that gave us trouble - another club-heavy team that had a couple of my teammates as well. In the regular season matchup (where we were missing all our tall guys except me), they beat us by 1. In the finals, we returned the favor.

We struggled in finals since our women had to play savage. Normally Yelena and Emily are a huge part of our success, but Yelena was worn out by halftime and Emily wasn't there. Still, we managed to gut out the win despite a pretty ugly final few points. I'm obviously biased, but I thought they made two very bad calls in the last three points, including a RIDICULOUS speed-up stall call on a goal. The game left a bad taste in my mouth despite the win, and it would have left a much worse taste had we lost.

The third league, the only one I didn't win, was the draft mixed B league. I played the B league in order to play with my wife. Considering how many goals I threw to her this spring, though, I think she's ready to play in the A league. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to play in the playoffs of this league, as the first round of B league playoffs was scheduled across from the men's finals (the rest of the men's league playoffs had been played over the previous week). I was the only player in the finals of men's league who was in B league, so I was the only person screwed by this setup. While I'm very confident my B league team would have won their opening game with my help (they lost by three), I seriously doubt we would have won the league, so I will count this as a loss.

Still, 4/21 sounds a lot better than 1/17, which is where I sat last fall.

I'm not playing any summer leagues - partly because my new job is really far from the fields, and I can get a good workout with lunchtime basketball in stead of fighting rush hour to play mediocre ultimate. I might join up late to a league somewhere though. We'll see.

Monday, May 07, 2007

In defense of the "3 handler" zone offense

Note the title of this post is NOT "In defense of the traditional dump-swing zone offense". I am not arguing this. I am arguing that the traditional structure, with three handlers, two poppers, and two wings/deeps, has several advantages.

The "two handler zone offense", as explained in Jim & Zaz's book, has been steadily gaining popularity. There are plenty of good reasons for that. The best reason, really, is that the traditional dump-swing zone offense (where the middle handler just swings it back and forth and the side handlers look for a single continuation pass to a wing or popper) sucks. It's really not that hard to come up with an offense that's more effective than that, particularly when it's windy.

The other reason it has grown in popularity is that it has lots of good ideas, notably:
  1. not losing yards on the dump
  2. crashing the cup and doing other things to keep the cup from staying set
  3. overloading an area of the defense to create an opening
  4. exploiting fast breaks downfield once you beat the cup
My point is that these ideas can be used out of almost any offensive structure, provided you are creative enough. And personally, I think it is easier to take advantage of these principles with a three-handler set.

The key to the three-handler zone offense, in my opinion, is to have the handlers be extremely active. Basically, at any given time, one of the handlers should be acting more like a traditional popper than a handler. Let me give a handful of examples of handler action to show what I mean.
Some similar ideas about beating a zone are covered in this oldie but goodie from Idris's blog.

Basically, I am proposing a similar philosophy to the new two-handler set, but based out of the traditional three-handler formation. The fundamental difference is that in stead of having a full-time deep, you have an additional handler. I think that, for most teams, this is an advantage. I will give two main reasons:
  1. The three-handler structure leads to less reliance on overheads. Fundamentally, it requires a few more passes, with a slightly higher completion percentage per pass. It is not nearly as conservative as the traditional dump-swing zone offense, but it is closer to it than the two-handler set is. Most teams are not that great at overheads, and as such, for most teams I think this set is closer to optimal in a risk vs. reward sense.
  2. Having a set deep cutter makes the job of the defensive deep easier. I know that when I play the position, it is a relative relief to have one player back there who I can worry about. Yes, this keeps me from making as many plays underneath, but I am taking a cutter out in the process, and furthermore I am available to help on other deep cutters. By contrast, if I have four cutters in front of me, several of which may strike deep, it can be very hard to figure out who to play on. I may not be able to help deep on all cutters, which means the wings have to be more conservative. Furthermore, because I have to be available to help deep, I can't play in front of poppers, so I am less effective covering the underneath cutters than a short deep or wing can be.
One last benefit of this approach is that it's easier to break people into it. I have converted more than one league team to this approach, just by calling myself a handler and then buzzing around all over the place, and encouraging people to "be greedy" and not lose so many yards on the dump. Trying to talk league vets into the two-handler set is generally a non-starter.

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